Week 1: The Evaluation


So a quick recap – the girls and I are now living with an Aidan and have hit a bump in the road. My nervous nelly, Analaigh, has been noticeably unsettled and after a few warning growls I knew it was time to speak to a professional. After getting a recommendation from a local pittie rescue, Harley’s Haven, run by a former co-worker I emailed a behaviorist and said this about my girl and our situation:

I have two pitbulls which were rescued in 2010. My older dog, Analaigh, is a shy and nervous dog. She get startled by loud or sudden noises, still exhibits separation anxiety, and is just generally a quieter and shyer dog. I recently moved into a living situation where we are now living with a toddler. Since we moved Analaigh has become noticeably more nervous. She finds it difficult to relax if we are all in a room together and will pace constantly and the constant noises are obviously upsetting her. Recently she has started exhibiting concerning behaviors such as absolute refusal to go into her crate and she growling when the toddler rushes too fast in her direction. We live in the basement and I think that the daily noises coming from upstairs while she is kept in her crate while I am at work have added to her separation anxiety and is why she resists crating. Although, spending more time going over our training and basic commands this week has helped me lure her in with a command and treat.  

I was hoping you may be able to evaluate her and/or our situation to help me help her better. I want to make sure we are all comfortable in our home and I’m just not sure how to do that best for Analaigh. Luckily our living area is in the basement so there is a “safe” place for her to go if and when she feels uncomfortable but I am hoping to help her be able to relax more in our home.

After some emailing and phone calls (which Analaigh overheard last week) we set up a plan of a 6-8 week behavior class. This week was week #1: The Evaluation. As I sat on the couch answering questions and cautiously watching Analaigh sniff our 6 foot radius while silently praying she didn’t do something to make it look as though I had raised a beast, John (our behaviorist’s name) took his notes and made his assessment. As you can read above, my impression of Analaigh is that she is a very sweet, shy, nervous, and increasingly fearful dog.

I. WAS. WRONG.
The professional opinion regarding Analaigh’s personality is that she is a confident, sometimes pushy, dog. Sparing you too many details – packs are made up of dogs of multiple ranks (higher to lower). Your higher ranking dogs are smart, thoughtful, inquisitive, and confident. They are who lower ranking dogs look to for guidance and direction. Analaigh is a higher ranking dog and as such, in the presence of our 19 month old toddler, is confused about who and what he is and how this impacts her. As the highest ranking component of our household it is my responsibility to give her this information and this is where I have been falling short. Every growl is the warning she is giving me and us that as the animal in a confusing situation she will do what dogs do unless instructed otherwise. On the other end of the spectrum is our dear Rosiebear who neither looks at or perks up when Analaigh gives her warning indicating that Rose is a lower ranking dog who trusts Analaigh to take care of and handle everything so she can continue on continuing on licking Aidan’s earlobe or being petted by him.
I was floored…completely floored. John says he doesn’t see Analaigh as a nervous, worried, or fearful dog at all and I will spend the next few weeks learning how to be better equipped to provide Analaigh with the structure and direction she’s been looking for.
I am so excited to start and in the few training sessions I’ve run at home with Analaigh in the presence of Aidan this week, I can tell that Analaigh is too.
I am looking forward to sharing our journey with you.

Dear Diary


Dear Diary,

Last night I heard mama talking on the phone. I overheard her saying things like “she’s my nervous Nelly”, “she doesn’t like to walk through shadows”, “she gets startled really easily”, “she doesn’t like loud noises.” I don’t know who Nelly is but she sounds a whole lot like me. Life used to be quiet with just me and mama. Then life handed us roses and it got more exciting, not too, just more. I love my sister. She makes me laugh with her silly tongue. She loves to run and play, just like me.

Lately though, life has gotten a bit too exciting for me…and I’m guessing for Nelly, too. I heard mama say that Nelly moved in with a little boy (just like me) and this little boy loves to laugh and giggle (just like ours) and he drops and throws toys and they come crashing around (samesies, again) and all this crashing keeps Nelly from being able to relax. A couple of times the little boy went running toward her and she got scared and growled.

I was sitting so near, because I wanted mama to be able to pet me if she wanted, and heard a man on the other end of the phone ask, “How committed to her are you?” Mama got this misty look in her eyes and said, “My life is my girls. I brought them into my home to give them a happy and healthy place to live and thrive. They are everything to me. I am 100% committed to her.” Then I heard the man ask, “That is great to hear. What is it you hope to be our outcome?” Mama answered, “I want to learn how to help her be comfortable in our home. I need to learn how to fix it when she’s telling me that she’s not okay.”

After a few more minutes of petting and talking, mama hung up the phone. She looked at me and kissed my nose. Then she told me we have class next Tuesday. I hope Nelly will be there. We have a lot in common. I’ll write more after my class.

UPDATE: Pitbulls buried in trash – Philadelphia, PA


Phoenix Photo Credit: PSPCA

Rocket Photo Credit: PSPCA

UPDATE: Two dogs and one cat were removed from what had been known as “the dirty house” on the 2600 block of N 23rd St.

It was while rescuing the partially buried, emaciated dog (Rocket) that whimpering was heard from the “mountain of trash” under which another starving dog (Phoenix) was found. Phoenix was unable to walk yesterday but was able to move around a bit more today.

Both dogs and cat are doing well reports PSPCA staff. They are all sweet and will be looking for homes in a few weeks.

___________________________________________________________________

According to a press release made last night by the PSPCA, authorities arrived at a home in Philadelphia for an unrelated incident; however, what was found there required Humane Law Enforcement to be called to the scene.

What was found: Two emaciated dogs buried in 4 feet of trash.

It is reported that both dogs were pit-bull mixes, a male and a female. The male is said to have been found starving, chained to a fence, and partially buried in the back yard. The female was buried underneath the 4 foot pile of trash.

The female was placed on life support last night but both dogs are expected to survive and go up for adoption.

The family living in the home will all be charged with cruelty to animals. Two arrests have been made and authorities are still searching for the remaining 3 suspects.

____________________________________________________

Let us hope that the media’s rabid appetite for reporting dog-related incidents involving pit-bulls carries this story far, although it is not their usual flavor. Animal cruelty and neglect are heinous crimes. Laws should protect our community and mete out appropriate punishments for those who commit crimes against humanity. Laws should not make it harder for those who are willing and able to care for those who need it.

Duchess, the bully


My sweet baby girl

I have been taking Analaigh to the Montgomeryville BarkPark since she was inoculated enough to go. My baby girl is a pretty shy thing. She is so sweet and so timid. The first time she passed through that gate she submitted to the toy poodle greeter, Henry, then to her first violater, Jake. Since then she’s gained confidence and loves the park and her puppy friends. She has never met a dog she didn’t immediately figure out, except for one: Duchess, the bully.

Duchess started coming to our park last September. She was up for adoption through an animal rescue and living with a foster. She was introduced to us as a pitbull mix because of her blockhead and muscular build. The first day Duchess came into the park, she stalked and stared down Analaigh and then lit into her. It was the first time, I had seen Analaigh defend herself instead of submit. No one made much of it at the time because it’s a dog thing.

Within a month, Duchess had a prospective adopter except he wasn’t interested if she had any bit of pitbull in her. My thought was that her foster-mother should flat-out refuse to let her go to anyone with such a stipulation. Instead, Duchess became a “corgie mix” because she had pointed ears and short legs. I began to think this might not go well.

"Hello, Layla" says Echo.

Since this rocky beginning, Duchess has been in an altercation with a dog every single time she has come to the dogpark. A few months ago, there was an altercation (shocker!) and someone breaking it up got bit by Duchess and went to the hospital for stitches. Duchess was back to the park that evening. The response of her foster-mother? “Duchess plays rough, the other dogs just don’t know what to make of her.” Really? Dogs, who read each other by sniffing the essence of butts, somehow can’t figure it out? I call bullshit.

The foster-mother has been talked to a lot about Duchess’s behavior and aggressive nature. Every time, we are met with another excuse as to why the altercation was not Duchess’s fault.

Duchess isn’t a bad dog but she needs help. How can she get it if her caretaker refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem? Who is trusting this woman with the care and placement of this dog when she refuses to accept and chooses to remain blind to a potential threat of safety?

Duchess was just adopted by her foster-mother due to policy changes at her housing development – so at least, we don’t have to worry about Duchess quietly passed off as “enthusiastic” to some unsuspecting person . But now, the chances of her getting help are even worse than before. There was another fight yesterday. Henry’s dad (the toy poodle greeter) suggested Duchess not come to the park when dogs are around since they just don’t play well together. Nothing changed. The fight wasn’t Duchess’s fault. She just plays rough. Dogs just don’t understand.

I’m at my wit’s end but I’m not sure what I can do.

The Denver Massacre


Denver’s breed specific ban went into effect in 1989 and was enforced with discretion for the next 15 years. In 2004, Colorado passed a state law prohibiting cities and counties from singling out certain dogs. In 2005, Denver sued…and won saying the “home rule” gave Denver the right to do what they wanted regardless of state law. May 9, 2005 residents and pitbull owners of Denver were given 30 days to remove their dogs from the city. On the first day, more than a dozen dogs were seized. In the first year it is said that over 1,400 dogs were removed from family homes and eliminated. Today the number is estimated somewhere around 3,500.

I’m sure we have all heard numerous stories in the media about pitbull attacks and these attacks are what spur people to action on putting BSL in place. In the hopes that it can reduce tragic accidents.

The National Canine Research Council works tirelessly to get to the truth of dog-related fatalities. Unlike the folks who keep Dogbite.org the NCRC mission is “to be as accurate about these emotionally charged incidents as we can, so that they are calmly, correctly and, therefore, usefully understood.” These folks have done their homework. They contacted law enforcement and witnesses involved, reviewed reports, and visited sites of the attacks. NCRC found that in 2009 there were 31 dog-related fatalities. 71% of the incidents involved “resident” pets, defined as pets kept away from regular human interaction (i.e. in a cage, kennel, basement, or yard), of that number 35% of them were kept exclusively on chains. In 84% of the incidents pets were not spayed or neutered. In 20% owners were charged with a crime (read: dogs were acting protectively) and in 20% dogs were severely abused and/or neglected.

Now here is where it gets really interesting. Of the 31 dog-related fatalities reported in 2009, only 30% (that’s 9!) of the dogs involved were able to be accurately identified by breed. If you read the report you will see many of them were called pitbulls but few of them identified as such.

My points are these: 1) Denver sucks (BOO!!!). I guess that’s not completely fair, their ordinance does stipulate that if you have a pitbull and have had it since before the ordinance was in place, you can keep it. So, that’s great news for all of those Denverites with 22 year old dogs. 2) BSL is wrong (and really not breed specific but type specific) and has yet to show it is effective in lowering dog bite incidents. 3) People use the word pitbull liberally. To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Think you know what one looks like? Then find the pitbull.